Sunday, August 12, 2012

Teachers of Religion

1.  Teachers of the Christian Religion
In a 7 August 2012 letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Baptist minister and President of the Interfaith Alliance C. Welton Gaddy protested Jindal's plan to fund private schools, including religious schools.
Gaddy wrote, "When in 1785 the state of Virginia considered a bill that would fund "Teachers of the Christian Religion," James Madison penned his famous remonstrance reminding his contemporaries, and indeed, generations to come, that 'it is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him.'"
Gaddy explained, "Put another way, funding...and sending our children to religious education programs is the right and responsibility of faith communities, clergy, and parents as they see fit--not of our government.  Every American also has an equal right to choose not to fund or participate in religious education."
2.  Gaddy was right on James Madison, but... 
Madison did not believe in tax funding for religious education.  Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia with no professor of divinity.  In his 19 March 1823 letter to Edward Everett, Madison wrote approvingly of the absence of religious instruction "from a University established by law and at the common expence...."
Nevertheless, Gaddy misunderstood the Virginia state bill to fund "Teachers of the Christian Religion." The bill was meant to support Protestant preachers, not religious schools.
In December 1776, the Virginia legislature exempted non-Anglicans from tax support of the Church of England and suspended the taxation of Anglicans (Episcopalians) for the support of their church.  In 1785, several lawmakers proposed restoring the tax support for clergy but expanded it to all Protestant ministers.  The lawmakers exempted Quakers and Mennonites, who objected to tax support even for their own ministers as a matter of conscience.  The assembly rejected the bill, however, after receiving a flood of petitions against it.  Madison wrote one such petition, circulated in several counties.
3.  Why Not Call Them Clergy?
In 1771, Presbyterians petitioned the royal governor New Jersey, William Franklin, for a charter of incorporation for a "Fund for the Support of Widows and Children of Presbyterian Clergymen."  Franklin sought opinions from his Council, from a justice of the colony's supreme court, and his attorney general.  The attorney general suggested substituting the word "Clergymen" with "Ministers" or "Teachers."
The New Jersey attorney general explained that "the King can't know [acknowledge], or with Propriety call, any Men Clergymen, but those of the established Church of England, at least in England, Ireland, and these colonies."
Perhaps Episcopalian lawmakers in Virginia could not bring themselves to think of Baptist and Presbyterian preachers as "clergymen," a title that carried some dignity.  The law benefited Baptist and Presbyterian ministers along with Episcopalian clergymen.  This might explain why Virginia lawmakers referred to the various clerics as "Teachers of...Religion."
A less unflattering possibility also exists.  "Teacher" was also an acceptable term for a minister or clergyman.

James Madison to Edward Everett, 19 March 1823, in The Writings of James Madison: Volume 9: 1819-1836, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1910), 126; Sanford Hoadley Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America: A History (New York: Macmillan & Company, Ltd., 1902), 417-418; Daniel L. Dreisbach, "George Mason's Pursuit of Religious Liberty in Virginia," in The Founders on God and Government, ed. Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark D. Hall, Jeffry H. Morrison (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), 219.
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